GIVEN THE NUMBER OF miles I put on my poor car as I roam the night, driving music is essential. I'm always searching for the perfect tunes to provide the soundtrack while I zoom through Washington's nightscape.
My impatient finger jabs the "skip" button an awful lot, but one recording has been living happily in my car the past few weeks: Chaise Lounge's debut CD, "The Early Years." Chaise Lounge is a local combo with a great name, made up of first-class jazz musicians playing swinging loungey pop. The CD is an expertly produced combination of originals and standards like "That Old Black Magic" and "Girl Talk," and straddles that line between cool blue and red hot.
And though Chaise Lounge tends to be lumped into the local swing scene, it really is a lounge band, intent on reviving the arranged pop of the '50s and '60s (think Pink Panther, Dean Martin, bossa nova) rather than the jumpy dance music of the '40s. "Lounge is a difficult category to define," says Charlie Barnett, the band's guitarist, primary arranger and songwriter. "Youcan pin it in time, though, as having been made from roughly 1957 through 1964. The music itself was the confluence of a couple of things. There were a lot of jazz musicians at the top of their form who were playing pop music; recording technology had really reached a peak; and a lot of great songwriters and arrangers were working in the industry."
He helpfully recaps his thoughts: "Really good songs, written by professional songwriters, played by professional musicians, sung by professional singers." So what killed off lounge as a popular musical form? "The Beatles and Bob Dylan. They were really the first to show you could write your own songs and play them yourself." He's diplomatic about it, but it's clear Barnett feels that most people should not be writing and playing their own stuff.
He should be though, and he does. His instrumentals on the CD are glorious slices of lounge that play in my head like the score to an imaginary jet-set caper movie (the Riviera! Vegas! Hong Kong! London!). This guy should be writing soundtracks. Hey, guess what? When I call him up, he tells me he composes film scores for a living.
It was for a scoring session that he first hired Marilyn Older to sing. Older had worked in Barnett's office; he'd heard her singing to herself and asked her to lay down a vocal track. "She nailed it," he says. "It was a `vocalese' part for a very retro thing I was doing, and it was perfect."
Also on that session were some of the other guys who became Chaise Lounge. "It sounded so good," recalls Older, "that we all just looked at each other and we were all thinking the same thing: Maybe we should do something with this." The group first worked out some songs by Brazilian composer Astrud Gilberto, "but then it went in a hundred different directions," says Older. Two years ago the band began playing out at places like Felix and Aroma, with a settled lineup of Barnett on guitar, Older doing the singing, Gary Gregg on saxophone, John Jensen on trumpet and trombone, Tom Barrick on drums and Pete Ostle on bass.
And while the band is superbly tight without sounding stilted, it's Older's vocals that tie together the package with a nice big ribbon. With the smooth and direct delivery of bygone singers like Jo Stafford, the 26-year-old Older brings an instantly engaging quality to the material, which includes two of her own songs (she's also a fine pianist who's had stints with Doc Scantlin's swing orchestra and with local rock group Dead Girls & Other Stories).
Chaise Lounge holds a release party for its new CD Friday in the upstairs lounge of the Tom Brazil restaurant (1832 Columbia Rd. NW, 202/232-4668).
* To hear a free Sound Bite from Chaise Lounge, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8111. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
"Swingin' With the Primates" sounds like the debut CD from some garage band, but it's the nearly literal tag for an evening at the National Zoo this week. On Thursday the Friends of the National Zoo is holding a social event from 6 to 9 p.m. for young professionals looking for a nightlife alternative to, say, nasty ol' bars.
The "nightlife meets wildlife" event will take place outdoors, beside the zoo's "Think Tank" exhibit, where folks like Rob Shumaker do language research on orangutans. That night Shumaker will give a demonstration of the work he's doing, holding short conversations with some of the primates (they use computer keyboards) prior to the "swinging" part of the evening. That begins with dancers Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg giving a swing lesson from 6:30 to 7:30, then the dancing starts, with music from local group Swing Speak. Admission is $8 with advance registration, $10 at the door. For registration and more information, call 202/673-4962 or log on to www. fonz.org/calendar.htm.
On a quiet Tuesday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, Felix owner Alan Popowsky was standing inside his club at 2406 18th St. NW, checking the reservations book, hardly noticing the green Nissan Sentra trying to park out front. If he'd looked up, he'd have seen the car's tires jump the curb and come rolling toward his restaurant. He would have seen the car about to crash through his 10-foot plate glass doors. The explosion of metal through glass finally caught his attention.
"It was like `Lethal Weapon' in here!" said Popowsky that afternoon in a rather pumped-up voice. "I was just standing there and this woman just drove through the window!" Luckily, no one was hurt by the car or the broken glass. After smashing three of the four glass doors that open onto the sidewalk, the woman scooted her car back onto 18th Street, hitting another vehicle before finally stopping and getting out. "I guess she hit the accelerator instead of the brake," speculated Popowsky. "It was pretty terrifying." The broken doors are covered with plywood for another week or so until the vast glass panes can be replaced.
The Adams-Morgan dance club Crush (2323 18th St. NW; 202/319-1111) has changed hands, but don't look for any alterations in the bar's offerings except perhaps a little more of the same. Open two years, Crush was sold by co-owners (and sisters) Stephanie and Mary Abbajay to Sal Gioia, who previously operated nightclubs in Miami.
"He's apparently going to keep it exactly the same," Stephanie Abbajay says. "It's a great going concern so he's got no incentive to change it. Though since we were open only three nights a week, he'll probably try to do something on the other nights." The sisters continue to operate Toledo Lounge, the cozy bar up the street from Crush, and after taking the summer to relax a bit they'll scout for places to open a bar/restaurant. "But no more dance clubs," Stephanie says. "They're lucrative, but there's a lot of built-in hassles."
The built-in hassle known as rent has done in the Bank (915 F St. NW) which closed its doors June 2. The owners of DC Live are reportedly looking to open a space at that address.
Bad Habits in Arlington (5444 Columbia Pike) has also seen its last. Best known for hosting the folk-pop group Eddie From Ohio nearly every Tuesday for eight years before that band moved on last year, Bad Habits closed two weeks ago when its lease ran out. No word yet on the future of that space.
CAPTION: Guitarist Charlie Barnett, far left, and Marilyn Older are the driving forces behind Chaise Lounge, which has a CD release party Friday at Tom Brazil.